Last week in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, unrest and violence continued ahead of key electoral dates. In Haiti, the opposition continued to demonstrate against President Jovenel Moise. A demonstrator was killed by armed men and several journalists covering the demonstrations were injured by police. In Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico, civil servants, members of the opposition, and candidates running in elections were attacked by armed men, months before key elections in each country. Elsewhere, violence and sexual abuse against vulnerable groups triggered demonstrations in Mexico, Guatemala, and Panama.
In Haiti, violence during demonstrations calling on President Jovenel Moise to step down continued. Demonstrations have been going on for weeks as the opposition claims that the president’s mandate ended on 7 February 2021, while Moise and his supporters argue that it extends to 2022 (Europa Press, 16 January 2021). After the president’s refusal to step down earlier this month, and following the arrest of a number of people accused of plotting a coup d’etat, opposition leaders called for nationwide demonstrations. On 14 February, in Delmas, Port-au-Prince, a demonstrator was killed and his body was burned by unidentified men during a demonstration. While the identity of the perpetrators remains unclear, Delmas is an area known as the stronghold of a gang led by Jimmy Chérizier. The gang leader has been accused in the past of suppressing dissidence on orders of the political elite (Insight Crime, 23 July 2020). That day, at least three journalists were injured as police dispersed a demonstration. So far in 2021, ACLED has recorded at least eight instances of police brutality against journalists during demonstrations. Haiti’s ranking in the Press Freedom Index dropped in 2020 due to increased police repression against journalists covering demonstrations (Reporters Sans Frontieres, 2020).
In Honduras, violence against political figures increased last week. In the Cortes department, a primary candidate running for the National Congress elections for the LIBRE party — one of the main parties standing for elections — was abducted by unknown attackers wearing police uniforms. Later, in Olancho, a municipal employee was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen. These attacks come after the killing of a mayor of the LIBRE party earlier this month and a fatal gun-attack at a LIBRE rally on 13 February. The gun-attack was triggered by a disagreement over the presidential candidacy of former presidential candidate and former first lady Xiomara Castro (El Heraldo, 19 February 2021).
These killings are likely related to the general elections planned for November and political parties’ primary elections scheduled for next month. In the lead up to the November 2017 elections in Honduras, several political activists were killed by unknown attackers, sometimes with explicit political messages being left behind at the scene (TeleSur, 22 November 2017). Between January and November 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) recorded at least 15 killings of politicians, active local representatives, party activists, and candidates in the election (La Tribuna, 12 March 2018). So far in 2021, ACLED records the killing of at least four government workers, current and former elected representatives, candidates for elections, and supporters of political parties.
Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, a medical doctor and known critic of the government was attacked by two men who hit him and accused him of plotting against the state. Following the crackdown on protest against social security system reforms in 2018, the regime of President Daniel Ortega has silenced members of the opposition and journalists through intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and targeted attacks (Amnesty International, 15 February 2021). In January 2021, a journalist was beaten by a pro-government militia member for reporting on anti-government protests, and police looted a radio station known for its anti-government stance. In December 2020, the number of attacks against political opponents in Nicaragua doubled compared to the previous month, with at least eight attacks reported. The use of violence against journalists and members of the opposition comes as general elections are planned for November this year. Such violence was seen in the lead up to the 2016 elections, which were marred by harassment campaigns, stigmatizations, and the arbitrary arrests of journalists (Reporters Sans Frontieres, 2020).
In Mexico, attacks against politicians and civil servants ahead of the federal election scheduled for 6 June continued at high levels last week. At least six politicians and civil servants were killed by armed men in targeted attacks. In the state of Zacatecas, a worker of the National Electoral Institute — an autonomous body in charge of organizing federal elections in Mexico — was shot and killed by gunmen. Likewise, in the state of Guerrero, the former mayor of Cosoleacaque and her daughter, who was running as a MORENA primary candidate for mayoral elections, were killed by alleged gang members. In the state of Mexico, another member of the MORENA party was shot and killed by armed men in a drive-by shooting. This upsurge of targeted violence can most likely be attributed to the activities of criminal groups.1For more on ACLED’s methodology, see Gang Violence: Concepts, Benchmarks and Coding Rules As witnessed in the 2018 federal elections, gangs rely on violence to intimidate candidates standing against their activities and to influence local politics during the electoral process (Milenio, 9 February 2021). In the first months of 2021, ACLED records at least 24 incidents targeting candidates, resulting in the deaths of at least 18 candidates, current and former elected representatives, and civil servants. In the six months leading up to the July 2018 federal elections, ACLED records over 200 attacks against politicians and government representatives.
Meanwhile, in the state of Guerrero, controversy over Félix Salgado Macedonio’s candidacy for governorship in the MORENA party primary elections generated unrest. Several complaints were filed against the candidate for rape and sexual abuse, prompting hundreds of women to demonstrate and demand the withdrawal of his candidacy. Demonstrators set fire to the entrance of the candidate’s campaign headquarters and threw Molotov cocktails at several public buildings. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador publicly supported the candidate and implied that the accusations might have been part of a smear campaign against the party. In 2019, 99.7% of sexual violence cases and over 51% of the cases classified as femicide went unpunished in Mexico (Expansion Politica, 28 February 2020; Impunidad Cero, November 2020).
Similarly, in Guatemala, gender-based violence continues to fuel protests across the country following the killing of two girls. In the capital, as well as in Quetzaltenango, protesters called on the government of President Alejandro Giammattei to take action against violence against women and girls. Only a small number of femicides in Guatemala are ever prosecuted, both due to underreporting and a weak judicial system (BTI Project, 2020). In January 2021, nearly one woman was killed every day in the country (Prensa Libre, 25 January 2021).
In Panama, reports of widespread psychological, physical, and sexual abuse of children in state-owned shelters generated outrage. Demonstrations were recorded over five days outside the National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents and the Family (SENNIAF). Demonstrators in Panama City erected barricades of flaming tires and threw stones at the Senniaf building, prompting police to intervene with tear gas. Civil society organizations accuse the state of failing to provide adequate protection to these children who often come from vulnerable backgrounds (Newsroom Panama, 16 August 2020).
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